I often waffle back-and-forth about the value of “soft” networking – where I’m not necessarily wanting something from the other person, or vice versa – but more just a “hey, how are you, what’s new?” A friendly interaction so that I know the cool stuff that they’re doing and vice versa. Defining a value for this is hard, and it does take time – which is one thing I often don’t have a lot of. On the other hand, there are lots of very cool people, locally, doing very cool, very diverse work. There may never be a direct professional reason for us to interact, but does that matter? Lauren & I get together for drinks semi-frequently (or semi-infrequently. Whatever the description, it’s probably not often enough). We talk some shop, but because we’ve been friends for ages, we’re just as likely to not talk shop. I don’t expect to get business out of it, but I do find I often come back from our sessions feeling re-energized about some particular topic or problem.
Being an entrepreneur can be fairly isolating – actually, that was one of the draws for me. I focus on my work, my business part focuses on sales, and magically money appears (where I by magically I mean we work really f’ing hard, but there’s definitely some magic to how it all comes together). But beyond our internal interactions, there’s very few outlets to talk, at large, about business ideas. I can read books, attend conferences, participate in online forums/discussions, but none of those replace good face to face interactions. What’s more, I firmly believe that local markets strongly influence companies – that is, 2 small companies from Vancouver, in different segments, are more likely to have similar issues than 2 companies in the same segment from different cities. Things like health benefits, paying staff enough to afford Vancouver’s exorbitant real estate, life balance, transit, parking, etc. When I meet with other small business owners or consultants elsewhere, we chat superficially, but there’s always this element of competition about our interactions. Lauren wrote very eloquently about defining your own success for BC Business, which I think is a key component when chatting with other professionals. I’m certainly guilty of being envious of colleagues’ successes. But lately, I find myself more able to celebrate their success, without feeling that inner lurch of envy. Possibly because I’m really proud of what I’ve accomplished, but mostly I think because I’ve learned that there’s no one whom I need to compete with more than myself. If I can always make my next project better, in some way, than my last, I’m doing things right.
So, loooong digression from the original point of this post aside, I’ve been thinking about trying to “network”. Wherein by “network” I mean “have lunch/drinks with people whom I think are doing cool stuff”. I follow on Twitter a whole slew of locals whom I’ve met here & there at some function but otherwise don’t know. This is often the case – I don’t do terribly well at functions – a room full of strangers – even a room full of friends is a panic inducing thought. But I may well have heard enough to want to know more, somewhen. Many I don’t even know what you do. I often end up with clutches of business cards or new twitter handles, without being able to remember why I even have them. But you seem interesting & I’d like to know more. So I’m going to try something out: I’m going to try & have lunch with someone local whom I think is doing something cool at least once a month. That might not seem like a lot, but it’s a start. I don’t want to sell you on Pencilneck Software, I don’t want to be sold on your company. I just want to meet you and listen to your story, tell you something about mine. Low-key, and spaced far enough part that I don’t stress out about it.
So what I’m saying, dear Vancouver, is that I’d like to have lunch with you. I’m booked already this week, but how’s your next week looking?